CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 31, 2008 - Nearly 90 percent of Americans say they feel safe online despite the rising tide of spyware, phishing and other badware threatening Internet users, according to a new poll sponsored by StopBadware.org, the consumer protection initiative aimed at combating dangerous software.
“What we have here is an Internet security paradox,” said Maxim Weinstein, who manages the StopBadware.org team at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “Americans see themselves as safe online, even as we see an ongoing trend of organized criminal elements using the Internet to target unsuspecting users.” Weinstein will testify at the Federal Trade Commission on April 1 about how to better educate users about the dangers of phishing, a deceptive practice responsible for $2.1 billion in identity theft damages last year, according to Consumer Reports.
I wonder, though, do we think that mistaken feeling of safety is a bad thing? I don’t — I think it’s great that we have enough of a safety net that people who don’t have the technical competence to deal with PC security threats nonetheless are being generative and participatory. I don’t think we’d gain by scaring those Internet users, even through education. While malware problems are often compared to public health, we don’t have a solution that’s as easy and effective as one-time vaccination to make computer users safer.
I’d suggest instead that social insurance and systematic efforts to prosecute criminal use of malware are better responses than demanding that individual Internet users pay attention, educate themselves, and stay vigilant against ever-mutating threats.